Boise Art Museum
August 25 - October 21, 2007

Cat Clifford, Laleh Khorramian, Lucy Raven, Mary Simpson

Nocturnes Exhibition Catalogue PDF Download Coming Soon 

Nocturnes Press Release  

Laleh Khorramian, Sophie & Goya, 2004

Widely known as a single-movement piece written for solo piano, the 'nocturne' came to popularity as a musical form in the nineteenth century. And while most nocturnes—Chopin's celebrated examples of the form, for instance—are expressive, lyrical and often somber in style, the form has expanded over time to include more varied compositions and sensibilities. With the animations exhibited in Nocturnes—all solo compositions with dark hues and veiled narratives—it is a sense of journey and complex grace that emerges as a shared quality in the work, as well as a mastery over the play of light inherent to the medium.

The works evoke, enter into, and render landscape as central. Whether meandering through Laleh Khorramian’s netherworlds in Sophie & Goya and Chopperlady, or resting in the ruminative environs of Cat Clifford’s And If You Stay Here for Awhile, These Things May Cross Your Path, a focus on ever-shifting landscapes and a journey undertaken binds these artists’ work together; just as the ominous shadow cast in Lucy Raven’s When the Ceiling Has Become Visible reveals itself to be a weather balloon that passes over and through permeable boundaries of infrastructure and open expanse, Mary Simpson’s finely etched super-8 animations burrow into setscapes of devastation only to then depart toward allegoric flights of renewal. All combine the handed quality of each artist’s source materials—drawings, paintings, etchings and sculptural elements—with the ease of increasingly accessible digital editing tools to achieve a ‘worlds-within-worlds’ style essential to the medium as presented here at the Boise Art Museum.

Part of a dialog regarding animation’s role in contemporary art—as evidenced by such recent group exhibitions as Animations at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York, 2001 and Analog Animations at the Drawing Center, NY, 2006—Nocturnes brings a focus to the form as specifically based in studio practice. However, as all three of these exhibitions show, forcing a simple taxonomy upon as hybridized an art form as animation is hopeless. And, perhaps, missing the point. Consider, for example, Phillippe Parreno and Pierre Huyghe’s two videos in the Animations exhibition that featured Annlee, a ready-to-use manga character purchased from a Japanese cartoon agency and revived with an episodic and collectively-determined denouement mean to illustrate the pervasive, global reach of simulated life (a dozen invited artists took turns creating the twists and turns of Annlee’s virtual lifespan). And yet the Annlee project was shown alongside William Kentridge’s Memo, which served as a hand-drawn reminder of the origins of the medium and its ability to transport and encompass a highly personal vision through entirely low-tech means.

This contrast reveals something about animation as presented in the art world over the last ten years; namely, the basic tools are now accessible and affordable enough that more and more studio artists can experiment readily with the possibilities of animation. And yet the medium’s process-heavy nature—whether withdrawn into formal concerns or overtly referential and ironic in style—seems to attract artists with somewhat of an auteur’s sensibility. Further, the medium’s still relatively low profile in the art world makes it something of a clean slate for younger artists. Paul Chan’s densely crowded political forays come to mind—Happiness (Finally) After 35,000 Years of Civilization (After Henry Darger and Charles Fourier), for instance—as do Shazia Sikander’s transpositions of Indo-Persian miniature painting into digital cartoons. Even Karen Yasinsky’s stop-motion figurines, with their domestic worries and rudimentary charm, exhibit a desire—characteristic of the medium—to step away from conventional formats and inhabit territories ruled by idiosyncratic decree.

The artists in Nocturnes breathe new life into animation as a medium devoted to singular visions divorced from the mainstream goals of programming and design teams. Each artist creates self-contained worlds, drawing the viewer into a close rapport with sequence and motif, as the wonder of filmmaking—ever in the process of becoming—is made direct and tangible in these highly inventive, facile works.

Cat Clifford, and if you stay here for awhile these things may cross your path, 2005

Cat Clifford’s salon style of exhibiting source drawings alongside her animations underscores the field-study nature of the work, as each of her videos investigates a landscape the artist has lived in, often worked on, and then lovingly transposed. Inverting her process, Clifford takes heavy grade paper as her material and uses black ink washes as the basis, cutting into night-like surfaces for each composition. For instance, with And If You Stay Here for Awhile, These Things May Cross Your Path, the flight and approach sequence of magpies is drawn, cut from the surface, drawn again, and cut successively frame-by-frame—564 in this sequence alone—as the movement literally trails behind in a trace of focused observation and energy spent. Clifford’s detachment from more conventional narrative structures and the absence of an obvious protagonist create a compelling immediacy as the intimate ‘you’ in the title addresses not only herself, fully given to the role of the observer, but also the viewer, as we’re invited to risk the patience of place summoned up in the animations’ focus on the natural environment.

Laleh Khorramian uses basic animation software to travel anew through her studio practice as a painter and printmaker, discovering latent worlds as they appear and disappear in the digital viewfinder. Proceeding intuitively and fluidly, she re-envisions the formal possibilities of her studio work as a painter, often finding the way to her next series of prints or paintings through the painstaking process of her animations. Indeed, revising and reviving both successful and discarded works, Khorramian employs animation as an aerial survey of her ongoing work. As the first two of five planned films exploring the atmospher of classical elements (Earth, Air, Wind, Water, and Fire), both Sophie and Goya and Chopperlady reconstitute fragments from previous works—monotype prints, pen and ink drawings, cutouts, oil paint textures, and odd studio remnants—as well as new large-scale canvases devised expressly for the given animation. Traveling into unmoored landscapes, Khorramian’s narratives never quite become tales as they follow characters setting out through illuminated, abstract lands. The otherness here is of multiples and abundance rather than underworldly portent as Khorramian circles intently, toward what seems an inevitable encounter or resolution only to veer off into enticing nooks and small discoveries up ahead. Evocative and diverse—Khorramian returns to the gamboling pace of a journey en media res, as her characters are constantly coming into being.

Lucy Raven, When the Ceiling Has Become Visible, 2004

The restlessness in Lucy Raven’s stop-motion work extends from the labor-intensive method engaged—each and every movement is drawn out on a studio wall, captured on video, erased, and then altered again—to her interest in relinquished energy as a recurrent theme. This tactile approach leaves the viewer immersed in visions of entropy, dissipation, and elongated time. A Crisis Passed in Sleep, inspired by James Agee and Walker Evans’ book-length study of dustbowl workers Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, takes flight just before sunrise and the coming monotony and exhaustion of another day in the fields; as Raven creates a suspended world between states, we pass through a kind of half-sleep. The sharecropper’s ramshackle house issues up from Raven’s hand as the spare one room interior is parceled into being and wakefulness is delayed. Free to draw out connections, a reverie of birds morphs into a pulley system’s unit-by-unit delivery of its load, the roof’s shingles spider across the wall’s surface, and in every sequence there is a build up of momentum and release—life’s inevitable momentum caught in time. As a result, the painstaking process underscores the time between frames as much as the sequence depicted and crystallizes the very in-between nature of her technique. And the second of her animations exhibited here, When the Ceiling Has Become Visible, continues an exploration of depression-era structures and raw industrial processes that Raven has deepened and extended to include an ongoing stop-motion study of the largest copper mining operation in the world, located in Bingham, Utah.

Mary Simpson, Aftermath, 2006

Mary Simpson’s filmmaking is a choreography of averted glances and gestural meetings, as her characters look down and away, or are often masked behind intervening surfaces. Repeatedly, figures intently approach an elsewhere that we’re never fully given access to, creating a compelling style of diverted arrival. In her film Aftermath, she has collaborated with sound artist Steve Roden to create a haunting vision of the desire for flight. The companion animation, Don’t Ask What A River Is For, reveals a glimpse into some of Simpson’s inspiration, as it includes a response to extensive studies of the Reconstruction period of the Civil War. As she confronts the improvised architecture of battle and ruin, Simpson embraces views of the ruined landscape rather than turning away, resulting in a fine tension. Her animations and related etchings pass well beyond some of the romantic tropes employed to tell stories that subsume any obvious historical readings—making for a singular style that reminds at times of Kara Walker’s films in their mixture of foreboding light, impending violence, and stark beauty, and of Paul Chan’s most recent animations in their allegorical bent.

While hand-drawn animation was recently considered solely the domain of William Kentridge, each of the artists included here is forming a new generation of influence that has begun to incorporate animation as integral to their respective studio practices. With requisite technologies more and more affordable, there is a growing number of young artists establishing themselves in part on the strength of their animated works. Nocturnes showcases four such gifted artists recently come to the medium, constructing meta-universes that transport the viewer into mesmerizing ‘other worlds’ entirely of their own making. 

                                                                          --Fionn Meade

Copryright Fionn Meade unless otherwise stated